From the beginning it should have been obvious to everybody but a Congressman from the Cascade Mountains that in any struggle between a team that lives and dies with guards and a team dependent upon Elvin Hayes, neither candidate could possibly win the NBA championship.
And so it came to pass that the Seattle SuperSonics—crass and brassy in the backcourt but feeble up front—and the Washington Bullets—powerful and point-heavy at forward but fairly woeful nearly everywhere else—had to head back to the West Coast after four separate trips across the land in their final series, all tied up at three games apiece. In other words, all dressed up with no place to go but the steamy and savage caldron of a seventh arid deciding game. Win the world championship? they must have been asking themselves. Might as well, can't dance.
Additional things that the two combatants were unable to accomplish continued to crop up during these games, never more obviously than last Sunday afternoon in Landover, Md. when the Sonics had a chance to end the longest season in the history of civilization but instead suffered a June swoon and were blown away by the determined Bullets, 117-82.
Washington buried its guests with 70 points in the second half, but it was a 13-4 spurt at the end of the first half that broke open a tight contest and banned the Sonic Boom for the rest of the day. Seattle's Dennis Johnson, who watched the Bullet rally from the bench, said, "We were flat. I came out because I wasn't producing. It was a lack of adrenaline or something."
Perhaps the deficiency was caused by the shock of seeing 6'6" Washington Forward Bob Dandridge floating and stinging like a guard, which he once was. With Kevin Grevey sidelined by injuries and his other backcourtmen plainly horrible, Bullet Coach Dick Motta sent rookie Greg Ballard into the game with 4:20 left in the second quarter and moved Dandridge to guard. "I don't like guard, but it was an emergency," said Dandridge. The two men combined for 11 points as the Bullets rushed to a 47-35 halftime margin that was never threatened thereafter.
Seattle spent the rest of Game 6 wondering why its marvelous guard trio of Johnson, Fred Brown and Gus Williams, who had combined for 57 points a game in the series thus far, were being held to 42, and how enemy reserves such as Ballard (12 points and 12 rebounds), Mitch Kupchak (19 points) and even a couple of those beleaguered Bullet guards, Charlie Johnson (known as C.J.) and Larry Wright, could continue roaring down the floor in an avalanche of fast breaks.
Hayes and Dandridge together scored their customary 40 points, but it was the work of the Bullet bench that prolonged the series, not to mention the failure of the Sonic defenders, who kept giving away large pieces of territory.
"I saw a lot of smiling and laughing over there," said Seattle's Johnson (known as D.J.). "But we got the seventh game at home. He who laughs last, laughs best."
"This is what it's all about," said Motta, looking ahead to The Last Waltz in Sonic land. "Everybody's backs are to the wall. It should be a helluva moment."
If the preceding week had seemed extra long to the Sonics, it was possibly because the team—along with the fanatical Rainbeltians of the Pacific Northwest—had believed themselves capable of wrapping up the series in five easy pieces. They planned on a pair of blowouts back home in Seattle following their breakthrough to 2-1 in Landover.